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Sports On Tap: Conference Championship Preview

Conference championship clash

All the higher seeds took care of business at home (especially in the AFC), and now the best teams of the regular season fight to see who makes it to Super Bowl Sunday.

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New England Patriots (12-5) @ Kansas City Chiefs (13-4)

After delivering some butt-whoopings over the last weekend, the 2 best teams from the AFC get ready to hash it out for the second time this season. The last time these teams met was in October when they had a shootout in Foxborough. The Chiefs are relieved to have home-field advantage with a rowdy Arrowhead crowd that hopes to help send their Chiefs to the Super Bowl for the first time since Super Bowl IV. The Patriots meanwhile aren’t out to break a championship slump so much as they are trying to continue championship appearances.

The Chiefs will need to adjust their game plan from the last time these teams squared off because Kareem Hunt was responsible for over 40% of the Chiefs’ total yards and no longer is a part of the team. Tyreek Hill also scored 3 times the last time these teams played, and the Patriots do a great job of shutting down a team’s best player. Fortunately for the Chiefs, Damien Williams (129 yards on 25 attempts, TD against Colts) has found his role in the offense and will need to overcome the Patriots 11th best rushing defense. MVP candidate Patrick Mahomes didn’t have to play well last week due to the Chiefs’ 4 rushing TDs which hopefully transfers into the AFC Championship and displays an adaptive Chiefs offense.

AFC Championship time is when the Patriots and Brady miss having the one seed the most. Brady is 3-4 on the road in the postseason including 1-3 in road AFC Championship games with his only win coming in 2004 season against the Steelers. Don’t discount the Pats as many forget how dominant they are in playoff football. The Patriots scored a touchdown on their first 4 drives of the game before having to punt. Then, when the Patriots did punt, they recovered a muff and scored a touchdown on the same drive. This quick start allowed the Patriots to coast to the victory for the rest of the game. The huge lead also led to an aggressive defense and a Chargers team that abandoned the running game. Brady completed 77% of his passes en route a 106.5 rating and Sony Michel looked like a steal with his 3 TD performance on Sunday.

Patriots. Chiefs. Brady. Mahomes. Old. Young. The Chiefs have been awaiting this rematch since losing in Foxborough and eagerly await Sunday’s game. The Patriots defense has improved since the last time these teams faced, but the Chiefs offense has not gotten any worse. Even if the Patriots shut down Tyreek Hill, they’ll still have Williams, Kelce, Watkins, and Mahomes to worry about. The Chiefs defense is built for January football with a wicked pass rush that had the most QB Pressures at home this season (118) and stopped Andrew Luck and the Colts’ high-flying offense from even obtaining a 3rd down conversion. Between the homefield advantage, playoff-ready defense, and Mahomes’ arm, the Chiefs are ready to represent the AFC this year and topple Brady’s reign.

Prediction: 26-23 CHIEFS

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Los Angeles Rams (14-3) @ New Orleans Saints (14-3)

The other rematch of the weekend features 2 of the most tantalizing offenses in football and another old v young storyline to fill the seats. The last game included a stellar comeback that fell just shy for the Rams. Something tells me that neither team will have to make a comeback in this game. A game that will be a battle on every possession to see who eventually wins the war.

The Saints looked to be in trouble at home against the Eagles as both teams played their brand of football. I was extremely worried when Brees’ first pass was an interception. Following Brees’ pic, the Philadelphia legend of Nick Foles responded with a 5-5 drive and a TD pass to Jordan Mathews. On the following drive, Foles poked the ball over the goal line for another score and suddenly the Saints were down by 14 in the Superdome. Was this Eagles team really gonna have another magical run to the biggest game of the year? To that, the Saints would lockdown the Eagles for the rest of the game with Marcus Lattimore shifting momentum with a pick that led to a 12 play, 79-yard TD drive that put the Saints right back in the game. Not to flex, but out of necessity, the Saints’ next TD drive was nearly eleven and a half minutes and 92 yards capped off with a 2-yard TD pass to Michael Thomas. Michael Thomas by the way, was definitively the best player on the field Sunday with 12 receptions for 171 yards and the lone touchdown. Thomas gave the defense fits but will be facing a different breed of cornerback as Aqib Talib and not Peters will cover Thomas in this upcoming matchup.

The box score doesn’t reflect how in control the Rams were of the Cowboys unless you look at how the Rams had the ball for 12+ more minutes. With a solid 1-2 punch led by CJ Anderson running for 123 yards and Todd Gurley adding on an additional 115 yards, the Rams offense just wouldn’t leave the field. This running game meant that the Rams didn’t really have to pass as they ran the ball 20 more times than they passed. The excellent run game kept the defense fresh with Suh, Donald, and Fowler Jr. making plays in the backfield and holding Zeke to 2.35 ypc (his lowest since week 7). The Rams as mentioned earlier were without Aqib Talib the last time they faced the Saints, and have a Marcus Peters hungry to make plays against the Saints and Sean Payton (“Tell him keep talking that s*it”-Peters about Payton after the last game).

In one of the hardest places to play in the NFL, the Saints are favored for the win, but one small, tiny detail will be enough to swing me to the other side: Andrus Peat’s injury. Peat struggled against Fletcher Cox last week only to be welcoming the best defensive player in the league in Aaron Donald. The Rams defense is better this time than the last time and the offense is more balanced and dangerous than ever. The Saints got some lucky breaks last time and I’m not certain the ball will fall (literally) into their hands this time around.

Prediction: 35-31 Rams

Written by Kodey Stauffer

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